Wellington, Fla.—March 27
Daniel Deusser’s top mount Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z spent the first half of 2020 recovering from an injury he sustained in December 2019.
Deusser brought the 13-year-old Zangersheide stallion back into Fédération Equestre Internationale sport last July. And on Saturday, “Tobago” proved his return to five-star form with a win in the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival.
“I’m in a lucky situation to have very good horses at the moment,” said Deusser. “That gives me, as a rider, a lot of confidence, of course. It makes my life a lot easier.
“[Tobago] came back only at the end of the year, and since that time, he actually came back better than before,” Deusser added. “These couple of weeks here at WEF also gave him a lot of strength again. Hopefully, he stays exactly in that form, and I’m really looking forward to a good outdoor season.”
Coming into the winter circuit, Deusser had concerns about his horses’ fitness and how they’d fare on large tracks following the lack of shows on the international calendar due to the coronavirus pandemic. But with the success of horses like Tobago Z and Killer Queen VDM, whom he rode to the win in the $214,000 Marshall & Sterling/Great American Insurance Group Grand Prix CSI4* on Feb. 7, Deusser had little to worry about.
“We couldn’t really ride during the winter, and last summer, we also didn’t ride like we do usually,” said Deusser. “For me, it was a little bit of a question mark—how fit are the horses, how good can they perform? It gives me good confidence, and it proves to me that the training and the conditioning of the horses was actually in the right place.”
“Both horses came in good shape,” Deusser said of Tobago and Killer Queen VDM, an 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare. “They gained even more condition here, and they’re hopefully ready for the next shows.”
Deusser and Tobago were one of 41 combinations that qualified for Saturday’s Rolex Grand Prix, the feature five-star event of the WEF circuit.
“I have to say Tobago is, for many years already, my best horse under the saddle,” Deusser said. “He won many grand prix [classes], and he really likes big grass arenas. He was in very good shape already the last couple of weeks here. That doesn’t necessarily mean that [he would] win today, but he kept his form, and he performed great.
“It was a little bit in my favor today that I had to start second-last in the first round and last in the jump-off,” Deusser added. “I knew exactly what I had to do, and at the end, I have to say, once it works out and a horse jumps the way he jumps, it was not too difficult.”
Israel’s Daniel Bluman finished second to Deusser with the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Gemma W. The pair made their international debut in the young horse classes in August 2018.
“We’ve been working with Gemma already for the past five years,” Bluman said of Gemma, who marked her first five-star grand prix on Saturday. “This is the first year jumping the five-star level, but I’ve always believed in her from the beginning to be a very special horse. So, I honestly wasn’t surprised to see her perform the way she did. She has performed like this all season, and every step that she’s done since a young horse has been like this. We’ve been patient, but it’s paid off.”
While Bluman admits that there were moments where he could’ve shaved off time during the jump-off, his focus was on producing a clean round that would pressure the other seven competitors.
“I’m not going to say I’m surprised that Daniel beat me,” Bluman said. “Like I’ve been saying already—before I found out that he was coming—it’s a little bit of a pain for us when he showed up [to Wellington] because he’s just in a different level. We need to keep working to be able to ride the way he rides.
“I’m extremely happy with the result anyway,” Bluman added. “I thought the event was amazing; I thought the field was great. To have the Rolex Grand Prix here was a great decision, I think, by the team, and I’m looking forward to being able to win this class in the next 10 years at least one time.”
The Netherlands’ Harrie Smolders finished third with Bingo Du Parc, a 10-year-old Selle Francais gelding that joined his string last year. Smolders brought the horse to Wellington to gain experience, and he competed him in several grand prix classes leading up to Rolex.
“Today, he did a fantastic job,” said Smolders. “It was a serious test for him, a big class. Also, I think we’ve seen several horse and rider combinations that we’re going to see back in the Olympics.
“[It was] great sport,” Smolders added. “I still feel, in some places, the ride can improve, so hopefully in the future I can even come close to or beat the gentleman [Deusser] in front of me. I’m very pleased with my performance of my horse, and I’m looking forward to the future.”
On Sunday, Deusser and Killer Queen VDM will join Smolders and Monaco, a 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding, in Ocala, Florida, to contest the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS.
“I have to say, we—and I mean all the riders here—are in a very lucky position that we are able to ride here,” said Deusser. “Coming from Europe, we know in the moment, with the current situation about COVID, how difficult it is to organize events, how difficult it is for the sport, and how difficult life in Europe is at the moment. So, a big congratulations and a big thank you to the organization and the sponsor here that we are allowed to ride here.”